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Park ranger Mike Nattrass blocks access on the road leading to Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park on Dec. 22, 2018, in Estes Park. The road was left unplowed because of the partial federal shutdown

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Update: Jeff Wolin at the Florissant Fossil Beds reached out to The Gazette to inform us that normal operations resumed as of 9 a.m. Sunday. 

National parks in Colorado and across the country are scrambling to fully reopen after the temporary end to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced an end to the 35-day partial government shutdown, agreeing to fund federal agencies through Feb. 15 while negotiations over border security resume.

The deal he reached with congressional leaders contains no new money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border over which Trump shut down a quarter of the federal government.

The Interior took to Instagram to share its gratitude:

“We’re back online and honored to continue sharing the beauty and wonder of America’s public lands. As all of the government reopens, we want to thank those respectful and protective of these important places during the shutdown. Many employees worked without pay and members of the public volunteered to keep #publiclands safe and clean, and to ensure they’ll continue to be a proud legacy for future generations.”

Reopening dates for national parks will depend on their staff size and “complexity of operations,” P. Daniel Smith, the deputy director of the National Park Service, said in a statement.

“Some parks which have been closed throughout the lapse in appropriations may not reopen immediately, but we will work to open all parks as quickly as possible,” Smith said.

Rocky Mountain National Park, whose 104th birthday was Saturday, is resuming all normal visitor services and operations, spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said.

“Park staff are happy to be back at work providing services to park visitors and protecting the park’s amazing resources,” Patterson said in an email. She expects to have more information on the schedule for its reopening as well as the necessary maintenance and repairs early this week.

Rocky Mountain National Park was partially open during the shutdown and started to provide basic services like toilet cleaning, trash disposal, snowplowing and entrance station staffing during the second week of January. No entrance fees were collected, and services were funded with revenue generated by recreation fees.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which did not respond to requests for comments Saturday, was closed during the shutdown. Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde remained open without visitor services.

Their websites did not have information on their plans to reopen on Saturday.

During the shutdown, parks across the country were overwhelmed by destruction, including multiple deaths, improper disposal of waste and vandalism, including cutting down protected Joshua trees at the Southern California national park. Many others that remained partially open had overflowing trash cans and toilets, and lost weeks of entrance fees and related revenue.

Theresa Pierno, president and CEO for National Parks Conservation Association, stressed the amount of triage rangers will face when they return.

“For rangers, it will mean returning to our national parks, assessing the terrible damage done to them while they were open with such limited staff, and once again welcoming visitors to the places they all love … ” she said.

“Now is when the real work begins. The damage done to our parks will be felt for weeks, months or even years.”

Pierno also urged those in Capitol Hill and the White House to dedicate themselves to finding a permanent funding solution for the sake of federal workers and America’s public lands.

“We implore lawmakers to use this time to come to a long-term funding agreement and avoid another disaster like this,” she said.

“Federal employees, businesses, communities and national parks deserve better.”

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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